Last week in my playwriting class, we were given an unusual assignment: write a scene in which your past, present, and future self are present on the stage at the same time. They didn’t have to interact with each other, or even recognize each other, but many people in my class wrote themselves doing both. In multiple scenes, the selves made judgments and gave each other advice.
“Is this really what I do when I grow up?”
“Slow down and appreciate this moment.”
“Am I happy?”
I felt that the question present in many of these scenes was would my past self be proud of who I am?
It was a question I hadn’t thought to imply in my own scene, but after leaving class, I entertained that thought for a while. How would my past self feel about me now, at nineteen?
She would be happy to see me in college, and psyched to know that I had the guts (or stubbornness, or insanity) to major in Creative Writing. She’d be proud to see that I made friends, and that I write for a satire paper and some people think I’m actually funny.
But she would be disappointed in me, too. I don’t go to an Ivy League school. I didn’t become a wildly successful novelist at sixteen, or even now at almost twenty. And my boobs aren’t nearly as big as either of us might have hoped.
The more I thought about what my younger self would think of me, the more I wondered why it mattered. After all, I can’t feel the repercussions of disappointing a younger me in a concrete way, the way I can feel it from a friend or a parent who exists now. And more importantly, my priorities have changed.
A lot of what was important to me as a child or a teenager simply doesn’t matter to me anymore. Being popular is an obvious one, but so is purposefully (and, might I say, obnoxiously) opposed to everything deemed popular or normal. I’m much more at peace with being myself, care less if I’m seen as weird, and spend less time determining who around me is being weird or being a follower.
I’ve also gained perspective since I was younger. While I certainly have missed my chance to be the world’s youngest up-and-coming writer, I know now that early success (or, more likely, just early publication) wouldn’t have been good for me. Logistically, it would simply be very difficult to be in high school or college and have a full-fledged writing career at the same time (I’ve seen people on my campus live, and struggle, with it). And on a deeper level, my own definition of writing success is slowly changing from being published or widely to creating original, high quality content (content that gets published, admittedly).
If I truly focused on making my past self proud, I would have to keep the same goals, the same world views and ideas of success, that I had when I was six, or twelve, or even sixteen. From where I stand now, that would be more of a failure than not becoming what I hoped to become when I still believed in Santa Claus. To me, disappointing my past self isn’t a failure at all; it’s a sign of growth.
So if I ever do end up in a situation like the ones in my class, and I’m onstage (so to speak) with my past self, I hope she takes one look at me and says “This is not what I expected.”